CHAMPCAR/CART: FedEx Championship Series happenings, 2000-02-01

FedEx CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES HAPPENINGS Notes and Quotes from Championship Auto Racing Teams, February 1, 2001 Since the conclusion of Sneak Preview at California Speedway two weeks ago, Champ Car teams have returned their focus to preparing for ...

FedEx CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES HAPPENINGS
Notes and Quotes from Championship Auto Racing Teams, February 1, 2001

Since the conclusion of Sneak Preview at California Speedway two weeks ago, Champ Car teams have returned their focus to preparing for the upcoming FedEx Championship Series campaign through test sessions.

Walker Racing was the first team to return to testing with rookie driver Tora Takagi (Pioneer/Denso Special Toyota Reynard). The team began a two-day test on January 20 at the 1.25-mile Firebird Raceway in Chandler, Ariz. Takagi, driving the team's new Toyota Reynard combination, posted an unofficial best lap of 47.1 seconds while completing 335 miles over the two days.

Team KOOL Green also wasted little time after Sneak Preview, unloading its 2001 Honda Reynard package at Firebird for two days of testing with veteran driver Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard) on January 21 and 22. Tracy logged a total of 201 miles, focusing most of his attention on setups and systems checks.

"We were able to get a lot accomplished over the last two days at Firebird," remarked Tracy. "My new engineer, Steve Challis, and I are really beginning to gel. Steve and the crew were able to make the car better every time we went out and we went through both days with no mechanical problems."

Following their sessions at Firebird, both Walker Racing and Team KOOL Green changed their cars from road course setups to short oval configurations for two more days of testing on the one-mile Phoenix International Raceway oval. Takagi turned 192 laps over two days with a best lap of 21.4 seconds, while Tracy was once again in the Team KOOL Green cockpit and completed 273 miles, with a quick lap of 21.0 seconds.

"We had two really good days of testing at Phoenix with Paul and Team KOOL Green," said TKG team manager Kyle Moyer. "I am proud of the guys who worked so hard on the car. We learned a lot and finished four days of testing without a single mechanical failure. We've tested hard on both the road course and oval this week and the reliability and consistency of the Honda Reynard has allowed us to get a lot accomplished."

Walker Racing owner Derrick Walker was similarly pleased with his team's progress, and especially with Takagi's efforts behind the wheel.

"I'm very impressed by his rapid progress given that he had never driven on an oval until yesterday," said Walker following the final day of testing at Phoenix. "The team did a good job and prepared a reliable car and it was a very productive test."

Walker Racing and Team KOOL Green weren't alone at PIR, however, as several other teams also took advantage of the opportunity to dial-in their 2001 short oval setups.

The PacWest Racing Group gave each of its drivers - veteran Mauricio Gugelmin (Nextel Toyota Reynard) and series newcomer Scott Dixon (PacWest Toyota Reynard) - seat time in the team's new Toyota Reynard. Gugelmin turned 125 laps on Wednesday, January 24, clocking a best lap of 21.48 seconds, while Dixon turned his first-ever laps at PIR on the following day. Dixon, the 2000 Dayton Indy Lights champion, logged almost 200 miles, turning in a quick lap of 21.5 seconds.

"I think my test went relatively well," said Dixon. "I'm still learning a lot every time I strap myself into a Champ Car, and running on this oval for the first time ever provided me with an opportunity to learn a new track - which I enjoy. We worked on a lot of different setups Thursday and tested various components on the car during the day. I was battling some oversteer in Turn 2, but other than that, we were okay. My learning curve is right where I expected it would be, and their preparation has enabled us to run from the time the green flag falls until the end of each day. I couldn't be happier to be working with this team, and we're definitely looking forward to this season."

Said Gugelmin, "We had a pretty decent day on Wednesday. We really spent a lot of time trying different things on the car, so our overall plan for the test was successful. We ran a 21.48 second lap, which put us in the middle of the pack of nine to ten cars that were out there. A lot of time was spent on the setup pad, and we worked diligently on testing springs, shocks, ride height, et cetera. The Toyota engine performed beautifully and it was really nice returning to an oval after all of the road-course testing we have been doing. Overall, we still need to work on finding more balance in the car, but we're learning a lot and definitely making progress. I'm confident PacWest will be on pace this year."

Team Rahal, with drivers Max Papis and 2000 Jim Trueman Rookie of the Year Kenny Brack, also tested 2001 Ford Lolas at Firebird Raceway and Phoenix International Raceway last week. Brack (Shell Ford Lola) turned a best lap of 47.9 seconds at Firebird on Monday, and followed that up with a best lap of 20.9 seconds at PIR on Wednesday. Papis (Miller Lite Ford Lola) upped the ante on Thursday, clocking a 20.6-second lap on the Phoenix oval, with Brack posting a best lap of 20.8 seconds.

"Every time we test, we learn quite a bit more about the Lola cars," said Team Rahal team manager Larry Ellert. "The biggest challenge for our team is getting to a comfort level with the Lola chassis after having run the Reynard the last five years."

Newman/Haas Racing drivers Cristiano da Matta (Texaco/Havoline Newman/Haas Toyota Lola) and Christian Fittipaldi (Big Kmart Newman/Haas Toyota Lola) tested their 2001 packages at Phoenix as well, with da Matta matching Papis for unofficial quick time of the test, turning a 20.6-second lap. Combined, da Matta and Fittipaldi logged roughly 350 miles over two days on the Phoenix oval.

"The test was very good," da Matta said. "I was very pleased with our progress after the first day and the second day was even better. I am learning more every time I am with my new team. They have a good baseline oval setup and are very methodical about testing different things. There were a lot of cars testing and it was good to compare ourselves with everyone. Especially since we were on the pace."

Also on the pace was Player's Forsythe Racing with Patrick Carpentier (Player's/Indeck Ford Reynard), who turned in a best lap of 20.9 seconds in 350 laps of testing at PIR. While Carpentier was busy at the one-mile oval, teammate Alex Tagliani (Player's/Indeck Ford Reynard) had Firebird Raceway to himself to complete 350 laps on the road course. Both drivers are pleased with their efforts in testing thus far.

"It's really been amazing," Carpentier said. "In six days of testing, there hasn't been a single problem. The car has been very stable and consistent, and we've been able to accomplish a lot. We've been able to work on a lot of different things that we wouldn't ordinarily be able to on a race weekend."

Said Tagliani, "Throughout our off-season testing, the car has been consistent and very fast. We've been able to improve our performance each time out, and I'm extremely confident it will be competitive when the racing season starts in a few weeks time."

2000 FedEx Championship Series champion Gil de Ferran (Marlboro Honda Reynard) of Marlboro Team Penske got his first short-oval laps of the testing season in on Wednesday, logging 120 laps and finding his way to the low 21-second range before an accident brought his test to a premature end. De Ferran was uninjured in the incident.

"Being our first test on the short oval, we had a lot to learn about the new car," said de Ferran. "We were making good progress when the car oversteered in Turn 1 and hit the Turn 2 wall with the left side. We damaged the left side of the car, but luckily I was able to walk away from the incident with only a swollen left ankle and a pair of bruised knees."

* GRAPEFRUIT LEAGUE ACTIVITY

While many teams were testing in Phoenix, a handful of teams opted to resume their test schedules in Florida. Fernandez Racing, with drivers Adrian Fernandez and Shinji Nakano, put a 2001 Honda Reynard through its paces on the 1.5-mile Homestead-Miami Speedway on January 24 and 25. Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Honda Reynard) put in 180 miles on Wednesday, posting a best lap of 26.6 seconds before turning the controls over to Nakano for Thursday. Nakano (Fernandez Racing Honda Reynard) turned in 160 miles with a best lap of 26.7 seconds under the watchful eye of his new teammate and team owner. "Shinji did a very good job," Fernandez said. "He has similar feelings of what is happening with the car and we compared a lot of notes. Everyone on the team is working well together and I am very excited. We get better and better each time we go out." Meanwhile, Herdez/Bettenhausen and driver Michel Jourdain Jr. took the team's first testing laps of the year on the Sebring International Raceway road circuit. Jourdain (Herdez Ford Lola) completed over 200 miles on January 23 and 24, turning in a best time of 51.1 seconds. "I was very happy with the test," Jourdain Jr. said. "We just got the car five days ago and the crew did a great job getting it ready in time for the test. The 2001 Lola feels a bit different from the 2000, but by the end of the test, it was getting better all the time. It was only a shakedown test, but I think it gave us a good base setup for our upcoming road-course tests."

* VIVA LAS VEGAS

One other hotbed of testing activity last week was the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway oval, where Target Chip Ganassi Racing rookies Bruno Junqueira and Nicolas Minassian got to know their 2001 Toyota Lolas a bit better. The January 22 and 23 test sessions at LVMS allowed the drivers to complete a combined 580 miles, as well as to practice pit stops. Minassian (Target Toyota Lola) was the first driver on-track in Las Vegas on January 22, when he practiced pit stops as well as simulating qualifying and race conditions. The Frenchman was pleased with his showing, and is gradually getting more comfortable on oval tracks. "The more I drive on ovals, the more I enjoy it," Minassian said. "This is a great track and I think I adjusted to it quickly. I've been improving with each test, and I'm better at communicating my needs to the crew. I like working on the car's specifications, and being involved with the changes that are being made." The following day, it was Junqueira's (Target Toyota Lola) turn to test the new car. He was victimized by a mechanical failure late in his session, forcing his car to spin and touch the wall between Turns 3 and 4. "Bruno was released with no complications after an inspection by CART's [Director of Safety] Lon Bromley," said Target Chip Ganassi Racing managing director Mike Hull. "We've had great luck avoiding trouble on the track so far in our tests, but the drivers and the team know this is part of racing. Thanks to Champ Car's high degree of safety and the HANS [Head and Neck Support] Device, by the end of the day Bruno was already preparing for his next test."

* WILSON JOINS BROOKE RACING TEAM ARCIERO

Just as Sneak Preview concluded at California Speedway, newly formed Brooke Racing Team Arciero announced that Brazilian rookie driver Max Wilson will pilot the team's Phoenix-powered Lola chassis. Wilson had been previously announced as the driver for Sigma Autosport, but became available during the week of Sneak Preview and was quickly snapped up by Brooke Racing Team Arciero. "I am looking forward to driving for Brooke Racing Team Arciero," Wilson (Redback Phoenix Reynard) said. "I've had the opportunity to meet some of the team members and they are hungry for a win. That's great! We'll soon start the testing of the Phoenix/Lola/Firestone package and the whole project looks very good."

* FITTIPALDI AND DA MATTA VISIT TEXAS MOTOR SPEEDWAY

Newman/Haas Racing drivers Christian Fittipaldi and Cristiano da Matta recently visited Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth for a media event, and both drivers gave the state-of-the-art 1.5-mile oval rave reviews. "The race here is going to be something completely different from any other race we will have this season because the track is one of a kind," Fittipaldi said. "The 24-degree banking will add an extra challenge to our teams in terms of getting the car working at the maximum level. We are going to put on a great show here that will be exciting for the fans and will also get the most out of the drivers because of the close drafting. The drivers all probably heard about Kenny Brack's test here [in December] and that he didn't run as fast as we initially thought, which would have been a little too fast. But it's one thing when you are running alone and a completely different one when you are running in a tight pack of cars at speeds over 220 miles per hour. It can get pretty exciting at times, which is probably better for those in the grandstand and on couches in living rooms instead of those in the cars, but it definitely makes for a good show. Houston has a great crowd, so hopefully it will be the same for our race here." Da Matta was also impressed with the high-banked Texas oval. "This track is absolutely unbelievable," he said. "You are impressed just by driving up to the track. The fact that CART receives some of its best TV ratings from this area will be good. It's always nice to come to places where we can get closer to the fans that watch our races and keep up with the series. I have never raced on a track with banking this steep. We took a couple of laps around the track in a van and it was pretty interesting. As of right now, we aren't planning to test here like the other teams are, so I am glad we were able to at least see the track before race weekend. I think the speeds will be much higher than when Kenny [Brack] tested here. He was running alone and you go faster when you are drafting. With our cars running close and the kind of racing the banking of the turns is going to produce, I think we are going to put on a good show here. This race will be won on the last lap. It's going to be a shootout in Texas and I hope I am a part of it." The inaugural Texas 600 at Texas Motor Speedway is scheduled for April 29.

* DE FERRAN ESCAPES INJURY IN TESTING CRASH AT HOMESTEAD

Marlboro Team Penske driver Gil de Ferran (Marlboro Honda Reynard) managed to escape injury Wednesday in a crash during testing at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The car suffered extensive damage when it made contact with the Turn 4 wall after spinning in Turn 3. De Ferran was taken to Health South Doctor's Hospital in Miami for precautionary x-rays of his left foot, which were negative. Team engineers are continuing to evaluate data from the accident.

* MEARS NAMED TO WORLD JURY FOR WORLD SPORTS AWARDS 2000

Three-time FedEx Championship Series champion (1979, '81, '82) and current Marlboro Team Penske team advisor Rick Mears was invited to be a member of the World Jury voting committee for the World Sports Awards 2000, announced January 16 at Royal Albert Hall in London. Mears joined an impressive group of sports legends including Muhammad Ali, Bob Beamon, Bjorn Borg, Carl Lewis, Pele, and Niki Lauda in selecting the 15 World Sportsmen and Women of the Year in nine categories. This year's winners included Tiger Woods, Marion Jones, Michael Johnson, Venus Williams, and Michael Schumacher. The World Jury is comprised of 71 jurors from 30 different countries.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Michael Schumacher , Gil de Ferran , Nicolas Minassian , Max Papis , Patrick Carpentier , Alex Tagliani , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Scott Dixon , Tora Takagi , Shinji Nakano , Kenny Brack , Rick Mears , Niki Lauda , Chip Ganassi , Mike Hull , Cristiano da Matta , Michel Jourdain , Michael Johnson
Teams Williams , Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing